An ease, a glow, a sparkle

man sitting with mountains behind

My first thought here is “holy shit, it’s been six months!” As I’ve started to reflect on this milestone over the last few days, I decided to revisit my three-month post. Many things struck me as I read through it. Much has changed, some has stayed the same.

The first thing that jumped out was the time-construct thoughts I was having. These persist today. Everything feels so distant. I wrote that post from Kotor, Montenegro three months ago. Three months feels as long ago as six months does, as much as last week does. Maybe that is a corollary of living in the moment. Being present makes the moment feel more crisp and vivid, but it doesn’t attach a time signature to the moment as acutely.

This isn’t to say I don’t remember or cherish the moments, quite the opposite. It places all the moments into the same bucket, without any sort of cataloging.

If I’m being honest, I kind of like that. It actually makes the moments feel sharper when I recall them. Almost like having RAW image files instead of JPGs. There seems to be more information captured in the moment, available to all my senses when I remember them.


I talked about being comfortable in my new skin and that continues to evolve. Like a snake shedding its skin, I am constantly beginning anew as I experience life.

Back in Kotor, I had yet to truly open myself up to meeting new people. I had certainly met a few and was starting to become comfortable speaking up first. Little did I know that Kotor would be where I would break out of my introverted shell and really start to open up.

Ironically, I met Ramona, one of my favorite people from this journey, on the same day I finished writing the three-month post. We would end up hiking together multiple times, in multiple places over the next few weeks.

From that experience, I began to understand how important human connection was for my mental and emotional health. It was a needed lesson. It showed me that I require a healthy balance between introversion and extroversion. I felt myself come into a new skin, one where I was comfortable and happy to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It was like the fire hose opened full blast and new friends presented themselves almost daily.

This culminated in the mountains of Albania, where a friend group formed and propelled a hike from a fun experience into the signature moment of my adventures to date. Everyone living in the moment, feeding off each other’s energy to enrich the experience. My connection to these wonderful individuals will be everlasting.


In another twist, my routine has completely fallen off. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I felt like I had a routine. At three months, I needed that structure as I worked through my new way of living. I also believe I’ll need a routine again in the future. As I continue to slow down and start to find freelancer work, I’ll need a routine to keep me grounded and on task.

But in the last three months, the routine has virtually disappeared. Or more accurately, it has swung to the opposite extreme. During my time in Tirana, I spent much of it hunkered down, writing code, with no thought to exploring the city. Since arriving in Italy, there’s been no routine. Things have gotten done, but it's all been a bit haphazard, and I’m ok with that.

What has changed is the desire to adhere to the routine at all costs has disappeared. I do still take time in the morning for my coffee, I still seek out parks, and I spend time each day working. But it's no longer set in a repeating pattern day after day.


New Musings

The last three months have seen a host of new thoughts enter my conscience. Here are a few that continually bubbled to the surface, constantly percolating in my mind.


Vacation mode vs just living. The biggest realization is around how I’m experiencing the world. It's been an undercurrent since probably Alicante back in April. But its come to the front of my mind since I arrived in Italy.

It's linked to the idea of slow travel and being present. I think it's what I’ve subconsciously been yearning for, and trying to break free from.

I strive to experience the places I’ve been, not just see them. Vacation mode implies the idea of seeing a location. A visit X place, take a photo. Visit Y place, marvel at it. Sip, Savor, Repeat.

I’m more interested in feeling a place. How does a place operate, what is the mood of its people? I’m of the idea that this only happens if you spend time in each place. Invest in that place.

The transformation isn’t complete yet. I’m somewhere in the middle of this process. I recognize vacation mode isn’t for me and that I want connection on a deeper level. But I’m still moving too fast.

On a macro level, I’m closer. Spending a month in each of Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, I started to understand the ways each country felt. And I'm certain, that after spending three months here in Italy, I’ll have cultivated a deep connection with this country.

My excitement is gaining momentum as my arrival to Bari approaches. It will be my first true opportunity to settle into a place. I hope spending a month there will allow me to connect with it in a more intimate and authentic way.

From this point forward, I expect that I will slow down further. I will take my time in each location to find that deeper connection.


Travel patterns locked in. By this I mean, I’ve honed my transit skills and preferences. It's all little things, but they are all important to keep me calm and comfortable.

I have found the ideal packing arrangement for my bag. I have already shed a few of the original 60-ish items, and added a few new ones. The net result is that I can pack my bag from completely empty to ready to go in roughly ten minutes.

Unpacking has also become one of my favorite feelings. Another reason to stay longer in each place. That sense of not living out of a backpack just feels so good. Clothes into drawers, toiletries in the bathroom, and keys, sling and shoes by the door. All little things, but they all provide a sense of stability and home.


Slowing down will allow me the opportunity to do some freelance work, if I so choose.

From the beginning, my plan was to give myself six months to roam freely. Burnt out from the unsustainable rat race that is American Capitalism, I needed and wanted time to just be a human. I’m not rich, so to make this new life sustainable I knew I would need to work from the road … eventually.

I figured six months would give me enough time to feel free and figure out how I wanted to experience this world. Turns out it took about four months. In early July, I could sense that part of me had gone missing. Part of this adventure is exploring my own self and striving to enjoy all aspects of my person.

Using the blog, I started to reenter the web development world. I’m sure many of you noticed I quietly introduced a new design to the site. That was my first attempt to reconnect and it felt amazing. I poured myself into learning new techniques as I went about the redesign.

Since then, I’ve gone one step further and I’m currently almost done with a complete re-platforming of the site, moving it onto a new framework. In fact, there was an entire platform rebuild in-between that never saw the light of day. Done just for the learning experience to stay current in my ever-changing field.

Basically, I’m ready and excited to use the slow travel to find exciting projects to contribute to.


Highlights

I've mentioned before that I love a good list, so in that spirit, here's a list of some of my favorite moments. First, one highlight from each country I've visited so far.

  • England: Chelsea match with Eli: Seeing his face as he saw the pitch for the first time will be one of the best moments of my life. I just loved that moment for him.
  • Scotland: Walking on The Old Course at St. Andrew's with my family: As my dad would tell you, he was walking about six inches off the ground!
  • France: Family dinner with the Ducrocq's: The entire family welcomed me as one of their own from the first minute and they are family now forever.
  • Wales: THAT random castle ruins: On a whim pulled off the road to check out some ruins. Felt like I was transported back 1000 years! Magical experience.
  • Spain: Blue hours in Praza do Obradoiro: First night post-theft, still in a bit of shock, I sat in the plaza as the sun went down watching the world go by. The bagpipes playing in the background, the color of the sky and the magnificence of the plaza all combined to kick start the healing process. I knew, in that moment, I was on the right path.
  • Croatia: Balcony sunsets in Dubrovnik: More a collective of moments here, as I spent each night of my stay in Dubrovnik on the balcony of my guest house watching the sunset. These were the days when I was starting to truly find the rhythm of my new way of life.
  • Montenegro: Ališnica Valley: A top highlight of my life in many ways. I pushed myself through many of my fears and reach this alpine valley that I never wanted to leave. The calm and quiet of the valley, with the rugged mountains all around left me stunned with its beauty.
  • Albania: Valbonë to Theth hike: Such was the epicness of this experience, I wrote an entire post about it. Hands down the best part of the last six months.
  • Italy: Sunset dinner on Lake Como with Eli: A view so storybook and a meal to match, with my favorite person taboot ... Perfect

Six for Six

Figured I'd narrow that down to the top six moments from the last six months (in chronological order).

  • St. Andrew's family walk
  • Ducrocq family dinner
  • Dryslwyn Castle
  • Dumitor National Park
  • Valbonë to Theth hike

Beyond these top moments, were literal 100s of other amazing moments and connections that have made the last six months insanely special.


As I'm writing this sentence, it's been 265,468 minutes since I boarded my flight in Minneapolis. Not a single one of those minutes was spent wishing I was doing something else.

Recently, my dearest friend Ann commented that she could “see and feel an ease, a glow (one might even say sparkle)” in me through the photos I had been sharing. It made me so happy that someone could see that because it’s exactly how I feel these days.

Every time I stop and look around me, I feel so incredibly radiant. Each passing moment reaffirms that the last moment was chosen joyfully. I remain buoyant knowing I get to continue choosing my adventure.

This is the way.